Michael Hiltzik: An antitrust case against Google is a good thing; but Trump's involvement may not be

By Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Generals and demagogues alike know that the best way to unite people behind you is to identify a common enemy. Such as, for example, Google.

That's why you'll see Democratic politicians making nice noises about the Republican Trump administration's blockbuster antitrust lawsuit against the giant internet company, filed Tuesday in federal court.

Democrats and the administration share a general viewpoint that Google's ability to throw its weight around is bad for the public interest. Their accord has limits, however - Democrats favor breaking the company up, but that's not an explicit goal of the lawsuit.

That said, for the moment the stars seem to be aligned. After the Department of Justice filed its case, New York Attorney General Leticia James cited the "good working relationship" she and other Democratic attorneys general have with the DOJ on their "separate but parallel" investigations of Google.

As much as Google's other critics might wish to applaud the Trump administration's aggressive stance against Google, there's reason to be concerned about the prospect that the lawsuit is clouded by Trump himself.

Trump has waged a long rhetorical campaign against Google and other online companies, accusing them - implausibly - of "censoring" conservative viewpoints.


U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in a June 21 interview on Fox News, directly tied accusations of censorship to the administration's concerns about the "concentration of these very large companies that have that kind of influence on the sharing of information and viewpoints on our society."

Senior members of the Justice Department have been reported to be upset at the apparent haste to file the Google lawsuit before the election, on the theory that the brandishing of a legal stick against Google might win Trump votes.

Trump's public determination to punish companies like Google can't help but undermine the legal rationales embedded in the DOJ complaint, which is said to be the result of more than a year of investigation.

Indeed, Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group that would have been expected to applaud any legal assault on Google's competitive dominance, branded the lawsuit on Tuesday as "nothing more than a thinly veiled political stunt."


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